THE BAKERY AT COOMBESHEAD FARM
In Lewannick, North Cornwall, there is a bakery that's changing our taste for bread.
- words and images by beth druce
Ben Glazer, the baker-in-residence at Coombeshead Farm, listens to jazz while he works. Thelonious Monk and The Cavanaugh Trio, Miles Davies and John and Alice Coltrane. He blasts out the tunes first thing in the morning while he is firing up the oven, ready for the rounds of dough that have been resting, sometimes for up to twenty-eight hours, to go in. “Last week was very Jazz heavy” Glazer tells me when I meet him on a midsummer morning when the bread making process is in full swing; “I really love and cherish that [break of dawn] time of day. Most bakers who I have met are wired slightly differently, we’re kind of a peculiar breed”.
Glazer was invited by Tom Adams (of London's Pitt Cue) to set up a bakery at his farmhouse restaurant and luxury bed & breakfast in Lewannick, Cornwall, which Adams launched in partnership with the chef April Bloomfield, in July last year. Fifteen Cornwall have been longtime supporters of Adams; he featured as a guest chef at the restaurant last year. The opening of Coombeshead bakery was subsequently welcomed, providing an opportunity for Fifteen Cornwall to serve their customers Glazer's bread.
Coombeshead is Foodie with a capital F. Almost everything served is cultivated on site and it is wondrously heavy on vegetables. Mangalitza pigs are reared, butter and yogurt are cultured, and there are conserves, Kombuchas and other fermented foods prepared by the chefs. So it stands to reason that the bakery is a serious bread-making operation, not some flight of fancy conceived on a whim.
Delivered daily to Fifteen Cornwall, the loaves at Coombeshead Farm are made with stoneground flour; stone-milling is the most basic way of extracting flour and is a method that dates back 5000 years to the discovery of the wheel. “Although the technology has advanced, the process is not dramatically different today" explains Glazer. "You literally just have two massive stones which have grooves in them and they crush the flour together and crush the grain together and then that flour will be sifted into different grains”. Glazer uses flour from Gilchester Organics, a mill situated on the site of a Roman fort in Northumberland that grows and mills heritage grains. “They work with farmers who are growing interesting stuff and trying to unlock those flavours that may have been lost as little as 50 or 60 to 100 years ago” Glazer tells me.
I watch as over the space of three hours Glazer mixes the dough, then lets it settle for a little while before cutting it into pieces. Then the kneading begins and I am mesmerised by this quick, masterful process. There’s a satisfying slap each time the dough hits the worktop, each glossy, bouncy mass is transformed into a plump ball and lowered into clay pots before being left to rest. Ah, the resting. Glazer leaves his dough to rest for around twenty-eight hours before baking, which, he tells me, gives it a long, slow fermentation. Not only does this enhance the flavour but it aids the digestion process. It’s the antithesis of your bog standard sliced white loaf.
I return to Coombeshead a few days later, baking here starts before the sun comes up. Once in the oven the loaves are turned at regular intervals and I am surprised to learn that when they reach what appears to me to be the perfect golden caramel colour, they are not yet done. Instead Glazer insists they must be a deep dark brown, a quality that distinguishes a Coombeshead loaf from the majority of artisan bread currently available.
And so to the eating. The first thing I notice about Glazer’s loaf is the texture, there is an oily roundedness that’s absent in the loaves I usually eat. It suggests the addition of fat, but, as Glazer explains, it is merely the natural oils that are released when the flour is stone ground rather than roller milled; because it isn’t stripped of its composite parts the germ remains intact. That and lots of water, the dough is kept as hydrated as possible throughout the kneading process.
Glazer produces a selection of loaves, Country Sourdough, Light Wholemeal as well as an intensely dark and dense Seeded Rye and the appealingly named Barley Porridge loaf that's crammed with grains and the occasional soft prune. All the loaves are distinguished by their moist, almost wet texture which, in addition to being delicious, gives them a shelf life of over a week. I take home two of their sourdoughs and devour them for the next five days; the toasty flavour and earthy texture makes it substantial enough to be eaten alone slathered in butter or toasted and topped with accoutrements, a quick-as-you-like meal on a plate.
As I write, Coombeshead are slowly increasing their foothold in Cornwall, in delis and restaurants, though Glazer has been most surprised by the demand for his bread in London, fresh loaves are delivered to some of the capital's top restaurants six days a week.
Coombeshead Farm is remarkable for lots of reason, affording diners the opportunity to enjoy a meal close to the source alongside an innovative and exciting approach to cooking and food. And now, with Glazer and his bakery, it has the bread to boot.